Fostering intelligence and the first-born advantage

From Nine To Noon, 11:27 am on 15 December 2016

The best thing you can do for your baby’s brain is to get in their face, says educationalist Nathan Mikaere-Wallis.

Why do first-borns have advantages over their younger siblings?

Not because they experienced more flashcards and Baby Einstein, but because they received more attention in their first 1000 days (around 2.5 years), he says.

“At the end of the day you can be doing Homer Simpson impersonations with the baby and you’re going to get the same advantages as if you were singing the alphabet.”

When a baby feels nurtured, their survival networks are calmed and their higher intelligence can develop, he says.

“Feeling really safe and like the centre of the universe and really nurtured – that’s creating intelligence in the brain.”

Parents often make the mistake of thinking their child will be intelligent if they’re taught to read early, he says, but that isn’t how the brain develops.

The best food for a baby’s brain isn’t anything you can teach them, he says, it’s play.

“Encourage the child to explore, to generate solutions, to be allowed to get things wrong, to be creative.”

A child that’s been taught ‘right and wrong’ answers and numbers and letters will develop “a type of intelligence that’s like a parrot”, he says.

But creative discovery-type play creates much more in-depth cognition.

Parents of under-sevens, especially, should focus less on academic performance.

“There’s plenty of time when you are seven to get those right and wrong answers and literacy and numeracy.”

According to Mikaere-Wallis, the three most important things for helping a young human brain reach its full potential are ‘relationship, relationship, relationship’.

“Enjoy the baby. Have your face in front of the baby and be talking to the baby, responding to them, making them feel safe, singing, laughing – it’s not about academics.”

Nathan Wallis

Photo: Nathan Wallis

Nathan Mikaere Wallis is part of the Brain Wave Trust, and X Factor Education, Christchurch.